Settlers and Pioneers
13 — Wellington Settlement
The circumstances of the English acquisition of the shores on which Wellington city and suburbs stand have often been related in other publications. Here I shall give some brief account of the early settlers' efforts and experiences that are not recorded in any book. The Wakefields treated the original owners of the soil very fairly, and there are Maori families to-day who draw large rents from properties—the original tenths—in the heart of the city and in the suburbs. In this cross-section of Wellington pioneering some account is given of Karori, a suburb that was founded very shortly after the first immigrant ships arrived from England. The life was described to me by old setders dating back to 1840.
Karori was a true backblocks settlement in Wellington's early days. The little farms were cut out of the heavy forest, as in the Hutt Valley. The pioneers described the beautiful and dense forests of tall timber that covered the Wellington hills and the Karori page 97plateau. They went straight out to live in the bush, clearing the timber, sowing their wheat and potatoes in among the burned logs, cutting roads, 'corduroying' the boggy patches (there was one in the middle of the present town of Karori) with trunks of ferntrees and other small trees of even size. Their first huts were built of split slabs and thatched with fern fronds until they had time to split shingles for roofing. The sides of many of the hills and ravines were covered with rata trees, glowing with bloom in the summer time. The principal timbers on the flats and slopes now covered with houses and gardens were rimu, kahikatea, hinau, matai, and totara. Many of the pines were of great size. A Karori man mentioned a matai (black pine) eight feet through the butt. From one great white pine in what was then known as 'Hughie's Clearing' in the middle of Karori, a settler obtained 2,500 feet of timber, pit-sawn. There were numerous sawpits in the Karori basin in the forties, fifties, and sixties; the grassed-over hollows marking the sites of several of these are still to be seen. The tall straight trunks of the white pine made excellent masts for ships. A veteran remembered one being cut for a lower mast of a whaler lying in Wellington Harbour; it was a spar sixty feet long, and it was hauled down along the narrow, twisting gully by a team of bullocks. A lively party of bluejackets from a warship helped to haul out a page 98great spar which had been cut for a mast; the bullock team, however, did most of the work.
In those days, too, up to the sixties, the bush swarmed with native birds, especially kaka parrots, tui, and pigeons.
One of the splendid old ladies of Karori, Mrs Cornford, who arrived as a young girl in one of the first ships, told how she used to take her double-barrel gun and shot and powder flasks and go out for a morning's shooting in the bush on the north side of the flat. She always brought home a bag of pigeons for the larder. Down towards Makara the Maoris had a famous bird-tree, a tall and spreading pine, up the trunk of which they fastened a ladder of bush-vines. A hunter would station himself in this tree with his long spear or his snares, especially early in the morning, and never fail in securing a good bag of kaka or pigeons.
Karori, like the Hutt Valley and other places, had its stockade for protection from the Maori raiders in 1846. This description of the primitive little fort was given to the author chiefly by George Shotter (who died in 1920 at the age of ninety-two), one of the first residents of Karori.
The forest at that time was cut away for about five chains on the upper side (south and south-east) of the Karori road, but on the other side the heavy timber grew to the line of the present tramway line. Eight or nine men of the Karori Militia usually remained in the stockade at night, in readiness for alarm, to resist page 100attack and to get the men's families into the shelter if necessary. There were alarms of coming attack by Rangihaeata's warriors, but Karori remained unmolested for the duration of the war.
An old-settled family told about the social life in the pioneer days. The great festivities that relieved heavy toil were wedding-parties. The girls married at sixteen or seventeen and set to raising families without loss of time. They told us of the old songs. 'Can you Dance the Polka?' was one of the ditties much in demand at parties. 'Oh, Susannah!' was another; that came with the first of the gold-diggers about 1860. 'Susannah, dear,' ('A buckwheat cake was in her mouth, a tear was in her eye'), and the 'Bound for California' chorus were just as heartily chanted in the Karori settlers' bush homes as they were on the old Western trail or on the round-the-Horn ships crowded for San Francisco.